Privacy in the workplace

Authors Alan Rycroft

ISSN: 2413-9874
Affiliations: Professor, Department of Commercial Law, University of Cape Town
Source: Industrial Law Journal, Volume 39 Issue 2, 2018, p. 725 – 748


The legitimacy and fairness of managerial practices which intrude on private actions, thoughts, and opinions are considered through two separate concepts which make up privacy: freedom from intrusion and protection for autonomy. While the Constitutional Court has acknowledged privacy in the truly personal realm, it has stated that as a person moves into communal relations and activities such as business and social interaction, the scope of personal space shrinks accordingly. The extent of this shrinkage is assessed looking at seven issues: (1) medical, alcohol and drug testing, (2) body, bag, locker and office searches, (3) camera surveillance, (4) polygraph testing, (5) freedom of speech and electronic privacy, (6) the privacy of personal data, and (7) appearance regulation. The assessment suggests that in most of these areas of contestation adjudicators have not automatically deferred to managerial prerogative but instead have recognised privacy rights, particularly in the sense of autonomy, to uphold the right to dignity. At the same time there is a recognition that privacy, like all constitutional rights, can be limited if it is reasonable and justifiable to do so, usually where that is in the public interest.